Mike Vial's wife, writer Natalie Burg, said she wouldn't marry him unless he quit his public school teaching job to pursue music. Five years later, Vial has played 1000+ gigs across the United States and Canada, and he's releasing a new album. For his fourth music release, A World That's Bigger, Vial recorded the entire folk album live and acoustic, similar to how Nick Drake made Pink Moon.
"I was encouraged by Nick Drake's story," he said. "I aimed to capture the energy of my live performances on this record."
So in the spring of 2016, Vial took three acoustic guitars and recording gear to a cabin in northern Michigan. With the help of his friend Mike Gentry behind the mixing board, Vial completed a challenging, personal record. But it wasn't easy.
"Vial has an incredible amount of mental stamina and finger calluses," producer Gentry said. "The guitar playing is intricate. It isn't something every musician could do!" After recording 150 takes, Gentry and Vial picked the best ten; the album A World That's Bigger was finished.
The album covers three universal themes - life, death and love - that Vial's family has experienced during the last five years. The title track "A World That's Bigger" celebrates the birth of Vial's first child, yet also recognizes the anxieties of raising her.
"I looked up how expensive college will be for Ginny in 17 years, and it was half of the mortgage of the house!" Mike said. "I had to write a song to calm my nerves."
While the record is a celebration of family, a common challenge also haunts it: "Ginny's birth was bookended by two miscarriages," Vial said. "Writing songs like 'Little Drum' and 'Those Shoes' helped me find closure with the fear and pain."
And the pain runs deep in other songs like "Burning Bright," a dedication to Vial's relative, Michigan Senator David Plawecki, who died of cancer in 2013. Plawecki's dying wish was to give all of his friends and family $100 to give to someone else in need. His generosity was reported in the news, and inspired Vial to write the song in tribute.
The record also highlights Vial's past as an English teacher. The lyrics are full of literary and Biblical references. "My former students will have a leg up on identifying the allusions to Greek mythology and Shakespeare, if they read the assignments," Vial joked.
Vial's songwriting has indeed matured, and his lyrics often achieve a poetic quality. Two songs from the new record earned Vial a spot as a Grassy Hill Finalist for this year's CT Folk Festival. The song Vial will perform at the competition, "Girl on the Mountain, Boy on the Beach," addresses the Syrian Refugee Crisis.
"I've been thinking about how lucky I am to raise my daughter in Ann Arbor, and how so many families are fleeing their homes overseas."
Vial hopes the music will inspire us to do more for those in need, like Plawecki's dying wish. After one listen to his music, the world will be definitely bigger, and brighter.